Much has been made of the raging success that is WWE’s developmental territory NXT. Some of today's marquee names in sports entertainment prove to be products of the famed training ground. Formerly known as Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW), WWE rebranded the entity to NXT and began producing shows where up and coming talent could showcase their skills.
Once viewed as the minor leagues of professional wrestling, the promotion has risen to such levels of success that it is often regarded as its own distinct identity. With weekly television programming and extensive touring, the territory has pumped so much talent through the pipeline that the WWE can successfully attempt their forthcoming brand split with confidence. Much of the success of WWE’s ground breaking circuit can be attributed to the state of the art Performance Center also based in Florida, where the best of the best aspiring professional wrestlers have access to a fully equipped facility with rings, fitness equipment and the latest audio-visual technology which enable performers to develop their personas to their fullest potential. While the training grounds do not receive as much exposure as the main roster and their activities, we'll take a behind the scenes look at some things you did not necessarily know went into producing the stars we see today.
15 First Ever Female Coaches In History Of Developmental
NXT has served as a major platform for pushing women's wrestling towards uncharted waters. Women are granted far more exposure on NXT and have even gone on to headline Pay-Per-Views there, like the historic match between Bayley and Sasha Banks at NXT Takeover: Respect back in October of 2015. NXT is flooded with an undeniable amount of talent, pushing the entire female roster to outdo one another.
Much of the success can be attributed to the implications and influence of two vital coaches, Sara Amato and Sarah Stock. They serve as the first ever female wrestling coaches the WWE have ever employed and their success is obvious with how well the women's division is doing both on NXT and the main roster. Neither coach spent any actual time with the WWE, though they are well traveled on the independent scenes. Amato's decorated career often saw her alongside the likes of Cesaro and Seth Rollins in many independent circuits before landing in WWE. Stock traveled extensively through Mexico and Japan, bringing her lucha libre style of knowledge to the Performance Center.
14 Controversial Firings
For all the great things that the Performance Center offers to aspiring and current talent, they have had their share of bad apples and controversy as well. WWE takes great pride in providing the recruits with the best quality coaches and trainers, which are usually retired stars with decorated careers. Among those who had the opportunity to teach recruits at the center were Bill DeMott and Billy Gunn. Both have been unceremoniously dismissed by the WWE and the Performance Center for specific reasons which violate the company's policies on professional conduct and wellness respectively.
DeMott was released after allegations surfaced where he was accused of running dangerous drills while making racial slurs and derogatory comments to the athletes. Gunn was released after testing positive for steroids at a power lifting meet, which clearly sets a bad example for the young hopefuls. While WWE did their best to sweep this news under the rug, that is virtually impossible in the age of the internet and social media.
13 Green Room Character Development
Today's Superstars don't only require elite athletic ability, as their gimmicks figure just as vital to the success of their careers. Sometimes, charisma can carry a performer beyond his physical limitations or a lack there of can weigh down a character (i.e. Neville). Nonetheless, the WWE recognizes the importance that gimmicks and personas play in today's sports entertainment climate, and the Performance Center was designed with the aims of enabling each aspiring professional to maximize their potential to the fullest.
More specifically, the WWE have designed a state-of-the-art green mirror room equipped with cameras from various angles with the ability to stop and play back their work instantly. They can use this to critique their promos, work on strengths and improve weakness all with the intention of harnessing who they envision themselves being as characters. The mirror component allows Superstars to perform straight into a recording mirror which emulates what the television viewers see and allows them the possibility to improve on the spot alone or with a coach.
12 Live Cameras Reporting Back To HQ
Vince McMahon has been known to have a say or hand in absolutely everything that goes on in the company. The Performance Center is no exception. One of the most intriguing technological advancements found in the ground-breaking training center proves to be a live feed camera which reports back to head quarters in Stanford, Connecticut. The recruits remain on guard, as at any given time, Mr. McMahon or Triple H may be viewing the activity going down at the facility. This prompts the athletes to remain on their best behavior, work as hard as they can, and demonstrate their willingness to learn and improve.
WWE executives can closely monitor the action and evaluate the process, and provide live feedback if need be. The same goes for evaluating the work of the coaches and those entrusted with running the developmental territory. As we will touch up on a little later, some coaches are equally as suspect for not fulfilling their professional obligations to the fullest of their expectations.
11 Experienced Coaching
The WWE aimed to assemble a cast of coaches with various backgrounds in professional wrestling who almost all spent some time with the company at some point or another. Each have their own backgrounds, experiences, wrestling styles and acting tips that they can pass down to the eager-to-learn recruits at the training facility. Matt Bloom serves as the head coach. You may remember him as Albert in the WWE, among other characters he successfully played during his career. He is joined by technical wrestling aficionados Norman Smiley, Robbie Brookside and Terry Taylor, to name a few.
Together, the full staff boasts over 160 years of pro wrestling experience. Where as many recruits have worked in schools where they were often one on one with their coaches, the Performance Center enables recruits to soak up the knowledge from several of the most brilliant wrestling minds in the industry, perfecting various different styles from high-flying, to grappling, to power moves.
10 Custom-Built High Flyer Practice Ring
Unique in the industry, the Performance Center has pushed the envelope yet again with the construction of a specifically designed ring made for high-flyers to practice their manoeuvres without fear of injuring themselves. The ring differs from the standard live performance rings as it includes an extra absorbent landing cushion beneath the traditional canvas which facilitates the execution of the high-risk manoeuvres. Many Superstars such as Kofi Kingston and Neville have raved about how innovative and practical such a piece of equipment is when mastering the art of this style of wrestling. WWE has kept under close wraps the actual make up of the materials, as it is a first of it's kind in the industry and has a patent pending.
Many Superstars would be very hard pressed to find anything similar in local or independent gyms. With this in place, we see even some of the bigger wrestlers attempting these types of moves during live matches with confidence as they have had the opportunity to train within the confines of this unique setting.
9 Ring Bell From First Ever WrestleMania Hung On Wall
Memorabilia of all sorts drape the many walls of the facility, almost serving like an unofficial shrine to sports entertainment. Many of the pieces serves as invaluable fragments of inspirations, as some of the collectibles date back to before many of the aspiring talent were even born. The most renowned item found in the Performance Center is arguable the ring bell used in the inaugural WretleMania. It hangs above the locker room door and is often the last thing performers see as they enter the actual training ground. All sports locker rooms, from amateur to professional, have something similar as the athletes prepare to go out and do what they love.
This inspiration and pride provided by a picture, quote, or flag just before you begin to put in work transcends all sports or forms of competition, and the designers who constructed the facility estimated that nothing could be more inspirational than the bell which sounded off the beginning of a revolution in the world of pro wrestling.
8 5,500 Square Foot Strength And Conditioning Room
WWE Superstars are among the most elite athletes in the world. Over the years, there has been a visible shift in the physical make up of the performers. With less of an emphasis on the bodybuilder physique, functional strength has taken the forefront, which can only enhance the quality of their performances, as wrestlers are now conditioned to perform more styles than ever all at once. Triple H made it a vital point of ensuring the facility be equipped with the absolute best platforms for strength and conditioning.
WWE constructed a 5,500 square foot area fully stocked with the latest equipment and systems. NXT talent are drilled through specific programs created by famed trainer Joe DeFranco and run by head coach Matt Wichlinski. There is a clear emphasis on functional strength trainin, and a departure from typical bodybuilding, which better serves the athletes in the ring. The workouts are gruelling and demanding, though also invaluable to the future success of all the aspiring Superstars who hope to get their shot with NXT, and obviously then onto the main roster.
7 Tons Of Former Pro Athletes Train There
Professional wrestling has always showcased athletes from other disciplines. The current roster today boasts a number of former football stars, models, cheerleaders, MMA fighters, and rosters of the pass have all had their fair share as well. WWE clearly believes in the potential of these types of elite athletes and frequently grant tryouts to these types of people, as the formula has worked in the past.
NXT’s current lineup and most recent main roster call ups include former amateur wrestlers in American Alpha, pro football player Baron Corbin, body builder Dana Brooke, to name a few examples. Legends of the past such as The Rock and Goldberg played professional football as well. Brock Lesnar is as big of an attraction in the WWE as he is in the UFC, where he will be returning to headline UFC 200 this month. At any given time around the Performance Center, you can find aspiring NXT Superstars from pro sport backgrounds vying for their opportunity to crack a roster, while current NXT stars hone their skills.
6 Average Salaries
A lot of speculation has been made of just how much the performers make while they are training down at NXT, or of those Superstars who appear regularly on programming and live events. With a bit of research, we were able to come up with some approximate figures for the 2015 roster. Prime players like Finn Balor, Samoa Joe and Kevin Owens earned roughly $8,000 per week as headliners, while the highest paid women such as Sasha Banks, Charlotte and Bayley earned nearly $5,000.
Newcomers will earn around $2,000 a week as they begin to appear more and more on television and live events to further develop their characters. Some at the Performance Center might be there on their own dime as they attempt to score full try outs with NXT. Nonetheless, these are the necessary steps needed to take if ever one wants to make it to the main roster with WWE.
5 Taping Schedules
The programs we see weekly on the WWE network for NXT are often filmed three at a time during one show. Usually broadcast from Full Sail University in Florida, the Amphitheatre will often record programming for shows three weeks in advance in one take. This is why we often do not see the same wrestlers wrestling in consecutive weeks, as it is made to be spaced out purposely. What we see in a highly jam packed one hour show every Wednesday may have very well be filmed three weeks ago.
The crowd stays engaged and this allows the NXT brand to grow as they can tour extensively while their regular programming is already filmed. In some circumstances, the live audience may see the same Superstar twice in one night as it is made to appear like a week has passed since their previous match. The crowd remains very engaged nonetheless and understands what is going on. Every couple of months, a live network Pay-Per-View special will highlight the best of the best of NXT, as they always deliver quality programming.
4 No Warning Prior To Call Up
As we have seen with the behind the scenes footage captured by film crews for WWE’s inside look on their show Breaking Ground, Superstars are kept in the dark prior to being called up and told on the spot. According to Executives, this method is used to ensure complacency does not install themselves in the Superstars if they know too early that they are moving up to the main roster. This ensures that competition remains fierce and Superstars stay hungry, and continuously work to improve daily, which can only make the company better in the long run.
During WrestleMania weekend, we saw several Superstars receive the news from Triple H himself that they were getting their permanent call ups to the main roster, and this brought forth some genuine reactions of jubilation, sense of accomplishment and pride, as dreams came true in those moments. Even there, it is entirely up to the performers to continue producing while on the main roster, as no call up is permanent or guaranteed.
3 Shooting Incident In 2015
Perhaps an all to familiar theme in today's climate, senseless crimes of hate are committed everywhere, including at the WWE Performance Center in August of 2015. A man by the name of Armando Montalvo grew increasingly obsessed with an unnamed female performer at the facility and followed her extensively. The situation mounted in tension as one day, Montalvo forced entry onto the grounds of the facility, trespassing beyond security and frantically searching for the object of his obsession.
Once detected and suspected to be armed, police were called to the scene, where a shootout ensued as the stalker appeared to be armed. The WWE had went as far as imposing an injunction on the trespasser they became too familiar with over the summer. The shooting did not produce any casualties, though it was an alarming situation that made headlines everywhere. Montalvo has been since found guilty of aggravated assault, trespassing and resisting arrest.
2 Ground Breaking “Pre-Hab” And Medical Facilities
The WWE main roster has been terribly unlucky over the last year with several marquee names losing significant time due to injury. Randy Orton, Seth Rollins, John Cena (twice), Bray Wyatt, and Neville have all been shelved extensively with bumps and bruises. Anytime a Superstar misses time, it creates havoc for creative teams, as stories must be re-written, plans changed and bookings adjusted.
The medical center put in place by the WWE at their Performance Center is run by head athletic trainer Brian Duncan, Physical Therapist and Athletic Trainer Tara Halaby and their crew. This staff was responsible for the ahead-of-schedule and well documented recoveries of Seth Rollins and John Cena. Though, the facilities biggest claim to fame is their “pre-hab” treatment center which puts heavy emphasis on regular maintenance of the athletes in order to help prevent possible injuries through stretching, massages and other various treatments. The facility is truly cutting-edge and serves as just another unique advancement by the company.
1 iPad Influence
From the minute you walk into the facility to the last time you leave, your entire body of work will be recorded with the ability to be re-broadcast at any given moment on one of the many iPad tablets that cover the walls of the facility.
Promo practice, move sets, conditioning, one on one coach sessions: NXT Superstars log on to a tablet, search, and review their work. It is a constant influx of information which leaves no stones unturned. The aspiring talent essentially have their every move documented and can go over this at their convenience in order to evaluate on their own, with peers or coaches on where they excel and, more importantly, where they can improve. Yet another advancement unique to the WWE Performance Center that really makes it the Mecca of sports entertainment training. Many Executives have claimed that the onus lies on the Superstar and how hard they want to work in order succeed, as the technology provides them every opportunity to constantly improve.